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The Social | Columbus, OH

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The Social (Facebook / @WholeFoodsUA / Instagram @wfmupperarlington)
1555 W. Lane Ave. (map it!) (inside the Upper Arlington Whole Foods)
Columbus, OH 43221
(614) 481-3400
Open 7a-10p (bfast served all day)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.

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Whole Foods is known for not just being a shopping place but for creating a full experience. This includes a lot of in-store events and a lot of opportunities for in-store dining. Most Whole Foods have an active prepared foods department that does more than just assemble meals for customers. The WF in Dublin, for instance, includes the 161 Diner, a small counter serving brunch, burgers, and beers.

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The fairly new Whole Foods in Upper Arlington, a smaller-scale store that replaced the Wild Oats on Lane Avenue, includes a small restaurant called The Social. The Social is connected to the store but still feels separate. It has its own entrance, which creates more of a feeling of a stand-alone restaurant than, say, the 161 Diner. In Dublin you need to trek through the store to get to the diner, and then sitting at the counter feels a little like sitting in the middle of the store.

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The Social could be any restaurant space. Not to say it’s generic – it just has a life of its own, separate from the store. The space is bright and welcoming, with a long bar at the back and plenty of cafe tables. Chalkboard menus list drinks from coffee to beer (mental note: good beer selection). Full- and half-sized growlers line nearly every shelf. Ordering takes place at the counter.

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Here’s the farm breakfast, a steal at $5 for two eggs, choice of meat (including vegan sausage), toast, and potatoes. All of it was done just right: soft and well-seasoned potatoes, eggs to order, very flavorful sausage. And served with house-made jam. Again, for $5!

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Also, the challah French toast. Two thick slices served with syrup, berry compote, and whipped cream.

A comfortable space and inexpensive prices easily put The Social on the radar for me. It’s a very accessible place with a big enough breakfast menu to serve anyone. And you know I’m eyeing that beer selection for a later visit…

AJ’s Cafe | Columbus, OH

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AJ’s Cafe (Facebook / @AjaysCafe)
152 E. State St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 223-3999
Open Mon-Fri, 7:30a-3p; Sat, 11a-5p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

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We were very sad when Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant closed last fall; it was a favorite stop for Indian food, and a regular place to take out-of-town visitors. (It’s since been replaced by the also-good Mughal Darbar.) One of our favorite things about Taj was being greeted by Ajay Kumar. Ajay’s family owned the restaurant; his father started it over 25 years ago, and it was one of the first Indian restaurants in Columbus. Ajay shared an especially warm welcome and a friendly handshake, and we were especially sad to lose that when the restaurant closed.

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Fortunately for us (and the rest of Columbus, I guess), Ajay has worked his way back toward opening his own cafe – AJ’s Cafe downtown. While it’s not exclusively an Indian restaurant, he’s still up to a lot of good things, he’s still offering the welcoming smile, and some Indian flavors have naturally crept onto the menu.

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The cafe is in a good-sized space at the corners of State St. and North Fourth St. (formerly the C-Town Market). It’s a couple blocks east of the Ohio Statehouse, and is easily visible while jetting up Fourth (Fourth is one-way, but State is two-way). There’s plenty of metered parking lining the streets.

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As you might expect from a downtown cafe, the focus is on simpler grab-and-go items. Expect to see quickly-made hot sandwiches and wraps + pre-made cold sandwiches. This is in addition to assorted bagels, drinks and some locally baked snacks.

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Ajay serves Upper Cup Coffee from nearby Olde Towne East.

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He also makes a ginger spiced chai, a hot concoction of black tea, milk, and spices like ginger and cardamom.

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On our two visits to the cafe, we tried both breakfast and lunch dishes. Ajay was especially proud to show off a house-made potato salad, which is seasoned perfectly. I love me some potato salad, and this was up there with some of the best I’ve had.

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We combined some breakfast and lunch (there’s got to be a word for that) with the zen wrap and the lentil and spinach soup. The wrap mixes rice, spinach, lentils, sliced carrots and apples, and a tamarind-cilantro vinaigrette. It’s a nice refreshing combination – I think it needed a little more vinaigrette. The soup is rich but light-bodied and little lemony. Both dishes are vegan, too!

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The bacon and egg wrap is just what it sounds like: a wrap with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon. Simple but well executed.

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A good example of the Indian flavors making their way onto the menu is the raja wrap. It features tandoori chicken, rice, red onion, jalapenos, and a cilantro chutney familiar from the Taj Mahal days. Other good Indian examples are the CTM wrap, made with chicken tikka masala, and the spiced chickpea wrap. I’m hoping that Ajay can continue to distinguish his cafe with these flavor profiles.

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If Indian food isn’t your favorite (and why isn’t it?!), the cafe offers lunch classics like a corned beef reuben, a turkey meatball sub, a tilapia sandwich, and the Bourbon St. Philly with spicy chicken.

AJ’s Cafe obviously has competition downtown, but it’s close to some crowded buildings, and there’s enough interesting dishes to set it apart from nearby options. And you can’t beat the warm welcome from Ajay and his crew! If anything, we’re glad to have the chance to see him on a regular basis and experience his hospitality again.

Aj's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ethyl & Tank | Columbus, OH

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Ethyl & Tank (Facebook / @EthylTank)
19 E. 13th Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43201
Open 7a-2a (full brunch served weekends; smaller bfast menu 7-11a weekdays)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 10:30 am

Have you heard about this newer place called Ethyl & Tank? It’s a coffee shop close to Ohio State’s campus. Oh, it’s also a bar with a solid 40 taps of beer. And they’re a restaurant serving burgers, tacos, and brisket. Plus, they’ve got an arcade.

Yes, Ethyl & Tank is a little bit of everything, established to serve the student population surrounding them, but accessible to everyone.

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About a block east of High Street – easily walkable but reachable by car only via side streets – is Ethyl & Tank’s long brown brick building, marked by a perpendicular neon sign. Enter through the corner doors and you’ve run into the coffee shop aspect, labeled “Ethyl” in neon. Ethyl sports a full coffee shop menu – cappucinos, machiatos, pour overs – and more.

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Keep moving and you’ll run into “Tank,” or the bar/restaurant. The large open space is very nicely appointed: leather bar stools, exposed ceilings, brick walls, wood floor. Combined with big windows and a patio out front, the space is bright and welcoming.

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Over the poured concrete bar are rows of TVs, so if you’re also looking for a sports bar: check.

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The second level – with more seating, tables, and a small arcade – opens onto the main space.

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The brunch menu covers a couple pages, and it’s focused on big dishes that pack a punch. Fried Egg Chicken Fried Steak? Biscuits and Chorizo Gravy? Creme Brulee Crepes? They’re not messing around. Notice the availability of some vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free items, too.

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We started brunch with a sample of a blend mocha from the coffee shop. It was nicely whipped without being overly sweet. When I first reached to pick it up, I was surprised at its lightness; I expected the thick, heavy sludge of a corporate coffee shop frozen-uccuino.

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And here’s something else to entice you: the $5.00 Bloody Mary bar. This may be some people’s favorite phrase in the English language. You can’t do a good brunch without a good Bloody Mary, so Ethyl & Tank give you a glass of vodka then turns you lose on the accoutrement.

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Everyone likes their Bloody Mary the way they like it. Some like it spicy, some like it mild. Some love garnishes, some love it salty, some like everything pickled involved. Ethyl & Tank gets your started with base mixes ranging from mild to mega spicy.

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Down the line, jars are laden with olives, pickles, peppers, fresh horseradish, chilies, jalapenos.

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At the end are bottles of hot sauce, steak sauce, and jars of salts and powders.

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The challenge with build-your-own Bloody Mary’s is that sometimes you don’t know where to start. In this case a list of suggested additions might be helpful, but with E&T’s pre-made mixes, you’re off to a good start. Here’s the end result of our Bloody Mary.

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By the time we assembled our Bloody Mary and sipped our coffee, brunch arrived. And arrive it did. We split three dishes between our family of four and still had leftovers.

First, which I pretty much had to order, was the chicken and waffles sandwich. It’s a crispy breaded chicken breast served between two waffles (were they Eggo? If so, it didn’t matter) with bacon, a thin coating of melted cheddar, and syrup. It came with a side of thin-cut fries – just how we like them. All in all, it’s a solid dish. The chicken was cooked through and through, but the seasoning was spot on and the syrup and soft waffles made up the difference. I know some people still don’t get the whole chicken and waffles thing, but trust me: you need to try the dish. It’s a little sweet, a little salty, a little spicy. This is what “they” mean when they talk about a balanced breakfast.

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And if chicken and waffles weren’t big enough, we went even bigger with the Tank Pancakes. Just. Look. At. This. Dish.

Tank Pancakes are three big but not ridiculously fluffy pancakes stacked and covered with pulled pork, cheddar, and a Jameson maple syrup. Yes, this dish might seem too over-the-top, but seriously: we loved it. Again, the sweet and spicy balanced each other out. There’s not too much cheese (which could have done the dish in), the pork is tender, and the pancakes are already soaked just right in the syrup. This leaves them soft without being mushy. You’re given a bottle of syrup, but you don’t need it. Another benefit to this dish: it’s perfect for sharing.

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We rounded out brunch with the Breakfast Burger and another side of fries.

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I’ve been craving burgers lately – it must be the turn toward spring – and this hit the spot. It’s built simply with a ground beef patty, lettuce, onion, tomato, cheddar, mayo. The real selling point is a fried egg (to qualify it as breakfast) but also a thin layer of chorizo between the beef and the egg. This little kick of spice adds a certain something that really makes it stand out.

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Of course, before leaving we had to visit the arcade. The games are all set to free play and with plenty of classics to re-visit (Pac Man, Rampage, TMNT, Terminator 2, Street Fighter). It was clear that some customers visit just to grab coffee and play games.

I’m sure you can guess already, but we were impressed with Ethyl & Tank. It was really unexpected, from the well-appointed space, to the breadth of the offerings, to the brunch menu. We were also impressed with the prices, which clearly must be kept in an affordable range for the nearby college students.

Ethyl & Tank is owned by same the folks who own The Crest in Clintonville. Our experience there for brunch was so-so, but The Crest is still going strong, and Ethyl & Tank seems to capitalize on similar strengths. And while The Crest maybe suffered from a little over-hype when they opened a year ago (not necessarily their fault), the opposite seems to be true for Ethyl & Tank. It’s sailed under the radar (at least for us) and so offers a surprising experience. We’ve already added it to the list of places to visit again and bring some out-of-town visitors along.

Ethyl & Tank on Urbanspoon

Photos: Brunch at The Torpedo Room

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One of the latest Columbus Food League arrivals, The Torpedo Room, launched a limited brunch menu this past Sunday in conjunction with a monthly event of brunch + a classic movie at the Gateway Film Center. I took my five-year-old to go check out the brunch (although I don’t think he’s quite ready for Goldfinger). The Torpedo Room is located on the main floor of the GFC; you’ll see the signs just to the left of the concession stand.

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As you might expect, the single-room restaurant uses a heavy nautical theme, with round portholes, heavy draped curtains, and a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea feel.

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There’s a good amount of seating, and the restaurant includes a full bar. It’s a cozy and quiet spot.

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The current brunch menu (it may change) features seven items, lots of sides, plus drinks (including the bar). There’s a heavy southwestern theme, with burritos, enchiladas, and huevos rancheros taking the lead. Like every CFL restaurant, you can rely on solid vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options.

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I took the opportunity to finally try a Rambling House ginger beer. Rambling House produces their own natural sodas out of a small space in southern Clintonville (where they host a LOT of live music), and their sodas are showing up on tap around town. The ginger beer is bright, fizzy, and a delightful balance between sweet and a nice gingery pucker. The last few gulps were especially strong with the ginger. You could make some great cocktails out of this.

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I chose the egg and cheese enchiladas, because you don’t see many breakfast enchiladas out there. The two enchiladas are filled with eggs and cheese, and topped heavily with a spicy verde salsa; I added the optional chorizo, because… well, chorizo. They’re served with a small plate of hash browns.

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Will asked for the breakfast burrito, a good-sized one filled with eggs, cheese, beans, sausage, and salsa, plus a side of potatoes.

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It was as filling and tasty as you would expect from a breakfast burrito.

Overall, it’s a solid brunch that’s just getting started. Expect the menu to change and hopefully regular hours to be established.

If you want to visit:
The Torpedo Room
1550 N. High St. (inside the Gateway Film Center)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 247-4433

Currently brunch is just served with this event. Upcoming movie brunches (cost is $15 for both your meal and the movie ticket) include:
April 6th: Breathless
May 4th: Annie Hall

UPDATED: Regular brunch hours are Sat & Sun, 11a-2p; Cinema Classic brunches start at 12p, movie is at 2.

The Torpedo Room on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: The Coop

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It’s a shame I haven’t written about The Coop yet because a.) they’re in our neighborhood, and b.) I can easily justify their food as counting as breakfast, since nearly every dish they serve involves some sort of eggs, be it chicken, duck, goose, turkey, or even quail.

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The Coop is a converted amusement park concession stand, and as the name indicates, poultry is their game. Although we’re not super regulars, we’ve come to know The Coop as the source for dishes – especially burgers – with unusual meats. You won’t find a regular beef hamburger here. Instead, you’ll find a yak burger. Or bison burger. Or turducken (turkey + duck + chicken) tacos. Or a benedict with turkey eggs. You get the picture.

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Owner Angela Theado recently finished a run of cooking weekends at the Hey Hey Bar & Grill in German Village (the kitchen has since been taken over by the Swoop! Food Truck crew). She’s now back at the original location at the corner of Indianola and Cliffside in southern Clintonville. It was recently announced that the building there will be renovated into the Coop Cafe, with Angela taking over the kitchen. I have to say that we’re immensely excited about it. The space has sat empty for as long as we can remember, and having a small cafe run by a proven restaurateur makes us very, very happy.

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The menu rotates a bit, so it’s a good idea to follow them on Facebook. This is what we tried on a couple of our most recent visits.

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Burgers are one of The Coop’s signatures. This is the bison burger, with a bison patty, bacon, havarti, a house-made mayo, and a sunny side up chicken egg. As far as burgers go, it’s pretty solid. I’ve had bison a few times, and its taste and texture is reminiscent of beef, just a little leaner. With the egg, bacon, and cheese, you can bet that this is a messy burger to eat, so be prepared.

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If your group includes a non-meat-eater amongst you, there is usually an option. Admittedly, this vegan coconut curry with plaintain was not our favorite thing on the menu. It’s hard to eat rice out of a container lined with foil. The foil eventually starts peeling up, and we thought the dish needed more spice overall.

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Amongst their burgers, The Coop’s yak burger is perhaps their most well-known, and rightfully so. It’s a tasty and drippy, delicious mess. I like the bison burger, but the yak is better, in my opinion. it’s lean and a little gamier, which is maybe why I prefer it. I like to taste the definite difference from a standard beef burger. At times the yak is over-powered by the bacon and cheese, but it’s hard to argue against any of the ingredients, and especially when sinking your teeth through them all together.

If you want to visit:
The Coop
2701 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
(614) 581-9353
Follow The Coop and Coop Cafe on Facebook
coopontherun.com

The Coop on Urbanspoon

Surly Girl Saloon | Columbus, OH

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Surly Girl Saloon (Facebook / @SurlyGirlSaloon)
1126 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 294-4900
Open daily 11a-2a (brunch served Sat & Sun, 11a-4p)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 12:30pm

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In many ways it’s really easy to write about Surly Girl Saloon, because I’m generally pre-disposed to liking Columbus Food League restaurants. Maybe they’re not the most cutting edge eateries in Columbus, but I don’t think they’re trying to be. CFL spots “understand their DNA,” to borrow a phrase from Alton Brown; they’re built around a certain theme and they run with it unabashedly: hot dogs for Dirty Frank’s, tiki lounge for Grass Skirt, Ohio comfort food for Tip Top, you get the picture.

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Surly Girl’s DNA is that of a kick-ass cowgirl bar. The name says it all: the old-timey title of saloon, and the reference to the surly girl. True that form, menu items have different surly names, and women-led breweries are highlighted on the beer menu.

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Over-the-top decorations, including an assortment of gaudy chandeliers, hearken back to the saloon and the rowdy music hall.

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Saturday and Sunday brunch take the appropriate tone, with spicy comfort foods backed up by an array of beers and cocktails, like a sassy and slightly spicy Bloody Mary.

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Or a very cool and simple mimosa.

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For my tastes, CFL restaurants always have a solid beer selection. I can easily find 5-6 things I’ll like, which makes places like Surly Girl an easy choice if you want drinks and food, even as late as 2 a.m. (which is not generally the case for me, but it’s nice knowing the option is there). At this brunch, I snagged a Jackie O’s (out of Athens, OH) IPA. Admittedly, a big IPA like this one doesn’t always play well with others on the palate, but it hit the spot.

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Like the rest of Surly Girl’s menu, the brunch menu focuses on pretty simple and likeable comfort food, all with a southwest-y kick. Case in point: the West of the Pecos nachos, an easy-to-demolish pile of nacho chips, cheese, eggs, veggies, sour cream, and salsa. Many of the CFL restaurants use a white cheese sauce that’s completely addictive.

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The southwest shells & cheese comes off the regular menu. Like the nachos, its base ingredients are pretty simple but very, very easy to like.

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I opted for the black bean huevos surlitos, the house version of huevos rancheros. It’s an open tortilla filled with black beans, veggies, eggs, avocado, ranchero sauce, plus I added the pulled pork. Overall, I liked it – the tortilla does get a little too crispy when it’s toasted, and I think the pulled pork is necessary – it really makes the dish. It comes with a side of well-seasoned potatoes and orange slices.

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And then we topped it off with The High Noon, a version of Surly Girl’s BLT&A sandwich (a BLT + avocado) with an egg. It’s a really tasty breakfast sandwich, also coming with a side of potatoes.

Surly Girl – like all of the CFL restaurants, I think – is a solid bet for brunch. They always have a reliable line-up of drinks, the menu has a little variety while staying true to their identity as a southwestern cowgirl bar, and the food itself is easy eating, especially if you’re catching up after a late night. Also, not many places will serve brunch until 4 p.m.!

Surly Girl Saloon on Urbanspoon

The Crest Gastropub | Columbus, OH

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The Crest Gastropub (Facebook / @TheCbusCrest)
2855 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 261-7128
Open daily 11a-1a (brunch served Sat & Sun)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y (for brunch, at least)

Visited: Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 12:30 p.m.

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Ah, finally here we are: having brunch at The Crest. I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because the Crest is one of the more talked-about new restaurants in recent months. This is my first time here for any meal, although Mrs. Bfast w/Nick has visited for drinks and snacks, and many trusted friends have been here multiple times at different times of the day.

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So why did I wait so long to write this up? A few reasons:

1. There’s been a lot of discussion about the Crest, more so than any other restaurant that’s opened recently. Some of the debate revolves around the old versus the new Crest, which in my mind are completely different things. The old Crest was a neighborhood dive bar that lived for decades. I personally never went there; I just had no desire to. If I wanted the dive experience in Clintonville, I would go to O’Reilly’s instead (and still can). The new Crest is totally revamped: cleaned out, built up, replanted.

2. The Crest is in my neighborhood, and it’s been central to a small south Clintonville renaissance that’s included Savor Growl and the just-announced Coop Cafe. Maybe some of these newer places are slicker and lack the layers of nostalgia, but they’re bright and approachable. Personally, I love seeing these dingy spots renovated. It’s good for our neighborhood.

3. The Crest labels itself as a “gastropub,” and that word stirs up mixed reactions. Again, I’m fine with it (I’m easy-going). Yes, maybe the trend is just making its way to Columbus, having been first applied to gourmet pubs in London in the early 90’s. But if it helps communicate what your restaurant is about (beer + slightly upscale pub food), then go for it.

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This is a lot of qualification for a blog review. I guess that’s because I’m generally not a negative person, but a majority of our experience at The Crest’s brunch was subpar. Not completely awful, just leaving me with no desire to return for brunch.

First, what’s good about it: The Crest’s space is gorgeously re-done. Lots of wood accents, spherical lighting, copper plating. A rooftop garden is growing much of their produce. Even the smaller landscaping around the patio and along Indianola are being utilized to grow vegetables and herbs. The space is bright and beautiful, and as a bar they seem to succeed: interesting (if a little pricy) cocktail list, expansive selection of beer on draft and bottled.

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The Crest has what you would expect of a gastropub menu: dishes that start as basic pub food like burgers, fries, grilled cheese, then modify them with seasonal ingredients and creative preparations. See above: wild boar sausage, grilled cheese with aged cheddar, pomegranate molasses on lamb lollipops.

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While the food seems to be taking center stage, I’ve seen The Crest receive the most compliments – and this was true at brunch – for their drinks. A number of people have said it’s a better bar than restaurant, and from my experience, I’d say that’s true. Case in point here: a pint of Seventh Son’s strong ale at happy hour prices. Yes, please. Also available was the Crestilada, a modification of the Bloody Mary that included beer instead of vodka. The substitution worked around Clintonville’s archaic laws forbidding liquor sales before a certain time on Sunday.

So very good drinks, but they highlight some of the problems with service: no one seems to be talking to each other. The host who sat us told us about the Crestilada, but our server had never heard of it. Our server initially told us all draft beer was half off on Sundays until 8pm. Oh, wait, no it isn’t. Oh, wait, yes it is. Oh, sorry, no it isn’t but we’ll give you the happy price anyway. Our server took our order but others brought our food; which I know other restaurants do, but then our server was no where to be found to answer questions. It was like the service was so decentralized that no one knew 100% what was going on.

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Frustration with the service doesn’t put you in a good mood when your food arrives. We ordered a mix of things, starting with the parfait, a well-done and deconstructed version of the on-the-go breakfast. It’s made with a layer of yogurt covered in fruit fresh and granola with honey. It feels odd at first eating a horizontal parfait, but it does let you mix-and-match your bites.

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I continued with the sweet trend and ordered the orange blossom French toast, made with orange blossom water (I’m not sure how), ricotta, maple syrup, and a berry compote. The ricotta was barely to be found, and quite honestly the berry compote was so overwhelming you couldn’t taste anything else. Not the bread, not the syrup (which if it was there, I couldn’t see it), barely the toast. The compote was simply too tart and strong that the rest of the dish didn’t matter.

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The Mrs. went for the Crest burger and fries, one of the signature items on the menu. As far as burgers go, it’s nicely done although not mind-blowing. We were still negotiating the French toast and the odd service to really appreciate the burger. It’s served on a cutting board like many of their meals (I’m told), which generally I’m fine with. But aren’t wooden cutting boards difficult to clean between uses?

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The burger came with a cup of potatoes, done up with sauteed veggies.

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Honestly, it’s the little details that can make or break a meal. What kind of broke it for us were those little things. Like the server not knowing what’s going on, the French toast being completely unbalanced, or even details like the cap of the hot sauce bottle (labeled with masking tape) looking crusty and unwashed.

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That was our experience at brunch. Comparing what we paid for meals and drinks to what we actually received, I have little interest in returning. Maybe just for drinks or for lunch, but not for brunch. I think the Crest has so much going for it, and I think that the doomsayers are wrong. Despite issues with service or lackluster food, the spot has been consistently busy ever since it opened. It’s now an accepted thing to find Indianola lined with cars. I truly hope that things even out at The Crest, because I like having good food in my neighborhood, and I love seeing a new business thrive.

The Crest Gastropub on Urbanspoon

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